I’m starting up a new feature, one I will try to do on a weekly basis. I will be posting my picks for the ten greatest athletes to compete for each college team in the USA.
Obviously, with over 300 Division I universities alone, I’ve got a lot of material to work with. Like the Smithsonian, I’m not going in with the intent to look at everything. Every week I’ll more or less randomly pick a college and go through its history; I may never be able to get to every college.
This week, the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Hurdlers Dick Rockaway and Jack Keller, half-miler Charlie Beetham, long jumper/football star Paul Warfield, high school stud Chris Nelloms
10. Mel Walker (1935-37, high jump)
Walker never won an NCAA Championship, but won the AAU Indoor twice and the AAU outdoor once. In the summer of 1937, he broke the world record twice in one week.
9. Stephanie Hightower (1977-80, 100 hurdles)
Hightower won two national championships (in the days of the AIAW, before the NCAA sponsored women’s sports) and is one of the all-time hard-luck Olympic stories. She won the 1980 Olympic Trials, but of course did not get to compete in the Olympic Games. In 1984 she was favored to win the Trials, but was the odd woman out in a blanket finish, just 0.01 second behind the winner but finishing fourth.
8. Diane Dixon (1983, 200 & 400 meters)
Dixon ran on two Olympic teams, both times winning medals in the relay, but her greatest exploits were indoors. She won the ’83 NCAA indoor title for the Buckeyes, and won eleven US indoor championships, including ten in a row. She won two World Indoor championships and took silver in another, and held the US indoor record for 19 years.
7. Mark Croghan (1988-91, steeplechase)
Croghan won two straight NCAA Championships in the steeplechase, and made three Olympic teams. Running in the 90s, when Americans seemed incapable of competing with the worlds’ best, Croghan finished 6th or better at three Worlds/Olympics. His PR remains #3 on the all-time US list.
6. Joe Greene (1987-90, long & triple jumps)
Greene won NCAA championships in the triple jump in 1988 and long jump in 1989, and won two Olympic bronze medals. Despite giving it his all, he never could break Jesse Owens’ school record, which tells you about the quality of that record.
5. Dave Albritton (1936-38, high jump)
Albritton was a three-time NCAA champion, tied the world record at the 1936 Olympic Trials, and won a silver medal at the 1936 Olympics. His most impressive feat may have been his longevity; he competed at the AAU Championships every year from 1936 to 1951, save the three years he was in WWII military service.
4. Butch Reynolds (1986-87, 400 meters)
Reynolds is best known for breaking Lee Evans’ long-standing world record in 1988, which itself stood for 11 years and remains the second-best time ever recorded. A year earlier, his 44.10 shocker at the Jesse Owens Classic was the “low-altitude” world record and stamped him as the World Championships favorite, but Reynolds never did win a Worlds or Olympic gold in the individual 400. He does have three silvers and a bronze, a total of hardware surpassed only by Michael Johnson.
3. Mal Whitfield (1946-1949, 400 & 800 meters)
Between June 1948 and the end of the 1954 season, Whitfield won 66 out of 69 races at 800 meters or 880 yards. He won the Olympic 800 in 1948 and 1952, plus a bronze in the 400 in 1948. He set two world records in the 880 yards, and broke American records in both the 400 meters and 440 yards.
2. Glenn “Jeep” Davis (1956-59, 400 & 400 hurdles)
Davis is one of the all-time greats in this event, twice winning the Olympic title in the 400 hurdles. He was very good in the flat quarter-mile as well, winning the event at the ’58 NCAA Championships. He is the only man in history who set world records in the 440 yards both with hurdles and without.
1. Jesse Owens (1933-34, sprints & long jump)
This is about the easiest #1 I’ll have to pick in this series. Owens is the only male ever to win four individual events at the NCAA outdoor championships, and he did it twice. He set three world records and tied a fourth in one afternoon at the Big Ten Championships; one of those, the long jump, is still the Ohio State school record, some 77 years later. And this doesn’t even get into his Olympic exploits.